Hello, (Not so) Black Friday

Though I certainly do not enjoy reading about citizens and poor shoppers being trampled while they attempt to find the best deals on DVD players, I cannot deny that there is some great thrill in jumping on board with the masses and heading off to the outlets in search of the illusive “best deal of all time”. For many years I held little to no interest in taking part in this semi-adopted bargain holiday, feeling that I simply couldn’t relate to the drive that got people up at four in the morning and had them lining up by six, waiting to buy the newest games and espresso machines. This year, however, with the thought of my imminent departure to Asia in mind, I decided that it was only appropriate that I take part in the chaos and be able to call myself a veteran of the worlds scariest shopping event.
To my great surprise, my mother decided that she wanted to join me in my little adventure. It came as no surprise, however, that my 14 year old brother, Adrian, wanted to come along, hoping to continue his search for the best skinny jeans. Sometime shortly after midnight, we jumped into the car and headed off to Woodbury Commons, a massive outlet complex near our house, a veritable mecca for shopping inclined tourists from all parts of the world. To say that the stores do well is laughable. On a regular weekend it is not uncommon to spend an hour looking for parking at the mall, and on many occasions they redirect traffic to a backup lot down the road, providing customers with a bus service to come back. Arriving sometime close to 12:30, we discovered (to my mothers complete surprise) that the place was so crowded that we were simply unable to get in. It was quite amazing to look out over nearly 100 acres of cars and SUVs, all glittering under an artificial Tim Burton-like sunlight provided by an array of streetlights. More amazing than that, however, were the crowds of people. Hundreds of them. Watching them walk between the cars and through stopped traffic, I was almost disappointed to be unable to join them in what would surely prove to be a night of adventure. There was more than a little magic in this artificial landscape.
Black Friday, a name derived from business lingo referring to the day in which the books made it into the black , has slowly become more than a bit of a phenomenon. Each year, this day draws an even greater number of shoppers into its midst, with numbers over the past five years crossing in the many millions. In many respects, I find that these shoppers are going out only in part for the sales. For many, it seems to be more along the lines of sport, and headed toward some form of tradition. We celebrate turkey day in our respective ways, and then come out en-masse to partake in the now American equivalent of the Running of the Bulls. Because of clever business tactics, the likelihood of finding a true deal is pretty slim at this point, but there is an implicit knowledge amongst the crowd that this is not just about the purchase. This is about being part of the crowd.
After calling it a night and sleeping off the headaches that had developed over the real holiday, my mother, my aunt and I headed out to the mall to try our luck under the light of the early morning. This time, more to my surprise, we found the mall nearly empty (it was crowed, but hell, I could walk freely). I listened to the conversations between customers and various employees, and all seemed to agree that this was a truly disappointing turnout. As compared with other years, 2009 sales were down nearly 7% . One could see this just by looking at the shelves, the vast majority of which were still fully stocked. Gucci seemed to be having no problems, with a line wrapping all the way around the store and back on itself. Were I a retailer, I would probably be in the back room having myself a few drinks, but in my position as a numbered shopper, I had little concern. Instead of witnessing the fights over products that have characterized this day in the past, I instead saw numbers of families out enjoying themselves, not seeming to be rushed into spending by the manic ways of commerce. Perhaps they aren’t spending as much as the used to, but the people are still coming out. Headed home, a new pair of sunglasses in hand, I couldn’t help but feel that the sensation of being able to witness the day brought much greater satisfaction than anything that I would have bought.

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